Zero minutes. Zero games. Zero touches. Zero points. These are Nick Phipps’s Shute Shield stats in the past two years excluding grand finals.
Hosts Qatar won the Asian Division 3 West title last weekend with a nailbiting 13-10 win over Lebanon in the final. Both sides had earlier put 70 points on Jordan in the three-nation tournament.
These teams are not yet affiliated with World Rugby, but the deciding clash was a scintillating affair nonetheless, with some real skills on display, particularly among the Qatari backline.
Unfortunately Asian competition has been hit by a series of withdrawals this season, resulting in Pakistan’s clash with Uzbekistan being called off. Latest word from Rugby Asia is that it may still go ahead at the end of the month.
The situation is much more dire in Africa, where first and second division competition has been cancelled entirely this year. Kwese Sports, which had been live-streaming the games, terminated its contract with Rugby Africa, leaving a huge gap in the cash-strapped organisation’s budget.
The top division had been restructured to accommodate two more teams, providing a reprieve for the relegated Morocco along with Zambia, who had lost a promotion play-off with Algeria. Teams were to have been split into two groups for the first time.
Things are looking more positive in North America, where Major League Rugby has announced further expansion for its third season in 2020. Washington DC, New England and Atlanta are all set to be added with the 12 teams to be divided into two conferences, leading to integrated play-offs.
Currently New Orleans Gold are top of the table with seven wins from nine games, although 2019 expansion team New York also have seven wins with a game in hand.
The other new team, Ontario Arrows, were narrowly beaten by New Orleans in their first home game last weekend in front of a sell-out crowd. The Arrows lie mid-table, having played all their previous games on the road due to the severity of the Canadian winter.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, Tazmania have taken out the national club final with a 30-29 win over Jaguares this weekend, after leading 23-3 at half-time. Both teams are from the capital city.
In the Caribbean the Turks and Caicos Islands scored two late tries to edge the Dominican Republic 24-20 in windy conditions at Grace Bay. The up-and-coming Dominicans had scored four unconverted tries to lead 20-12 with a few minutes to play.
In Europe Luxembourg stunned Moldova 23-10 in lower division ENC competition. The outcome represents a new low point for the Eastern Europeans, who have slid down the rankings from 25th to 56th over the past five years.
Elsewhere, Malta were held to an 18-18 draw at home by Croatia, Switzerland downed visiting Lithuania 34-24 and Denmark battled to a 26-22 win over unranked Gibraltar in a friendly at Tarnby after leading 26-3 at half-time.